Construction Site Safety: The Seriousness of “Near Misses”
Let’s walk through a scenario. You are on a construction site and around five hours into the shift. The day is particularly hot, and you just feel like taking a breather. You turn off the jack hammer, which is still plugged in, and you sit to the side while you drink something cold to cool yourself down.
A colleague of yours is carrying something heavy in his hands, and can barely see what is in front of him. As he is walking, he trips on the jack hammer cable that is stretched out just so it can reach your work area, but he manages to find his balance again. He drops everything that he is carrying and it almost lands on your legs, missing you by an inch or two.
This scenario is nothing more than a freak accident where nobody gets hurt. However, both you and your colleague have experienced a couple of near miss situations at work.
People might be tempted to shrug off near miss situations as no-harm, no-foul scenarios. On the contrary, you should actively track near misses, determine what caused them, and take corrective action to ensure something similar never happens again.
Defining a Near Miss
A near miss refers to an unplanned event that does not result in any damage, illness, or serious injury – but it has potential to do so. This is the definition based on OSHA’s fact sheet.
According to the fact sheet, OSHA stresses that it does not matter that a near miss did not cause immediate harm to anyone. A near miss can be a precursor to events where serious injuries, damage, or even loss of life can occur.
You might want to ignore a near miss situation, and perhaps even cover for someone who might be at fault for causing it in the first place. It is critical that you have a proper response to near miss situations. While nobody was hurt, a near miss can actually result in grave injuries and death. There is no other way about it. This is a serious issue and you need to take action to ensure it does not happen again.
Reporting a near miss situation will alert the management towards a potential problem. It allows them to evaluate the situation, and take appropriate action to correct the cause.
How to Respond
Collecting near miss reports actually helps create a safer culture at work. For a job as dangerous as construction, it can help create a better work environment. It encourages everybody to identify and control the hazards that can lead to near miss situations, or even harmful accidents. As an employee, your first reaction should be to take appropriate measures to ensure everyone’s safety.
If the situation is dire, remove yourself and anybody around you from it as soon as you can. Once you make sure everybody is safe, report the incident to the relevant authorities so they can properly assess the situation. Report everything that you witnessed.
By taking action right away, you can make sure that a more serious version of the event does not happen again.
Employers should take measures to encourage a safer environment at work, with reporting near misses as a vital part of construction site safety best practices. In case any near miss incidents occur, the management should use it as an opportunity to fine-tune their training and risk management, as well as improve on crisis planning.
Establishing a near miss reporting system is the responsibility of employers, while employees are expected to follow it.